The dancers of the American Ballet Theatre voted 61 to 4 early this morning to return to work next week under a new contract that they say grants them wage increases averaging approximately 54 percent over the next four years. ABT general manager Charles Dillingham said that because of anticipated retirements, the wage increases will average 45 percent.

Herman E. Krawitz, the company's executive director, said that effective immediately, no ABT dancer would make less than $19,000 annually.

ABT also announced this afternoon that it would perform at the Kennedy Center from Jan. 19 through 23 -- its first public performances of this season.

However, Kennedy Center Board chairman Roger Stevens said ABT seemed to be anticipating negotiations that have not yet taken place. He said the Kennedy Center had committed itself to present ABT during the week of Jan. 16, but had not committed itself to any other specifics, such as the number of performances. Stevens said that the Center would have more detailed information sometime next week.

Under the terms of the new contract, ABT's 91 dancers will each, upon request, receive a $1,000 cash advance against the proceeds of up to two future ABT benefit performances. The cash advance, according to the dancers' leaders, is a one-time payment of damages for the 69 days the dancers were locked out.

Dancers' attorney Leonard Leibowitz today called the cash payments "retroactive lockout pay" and said it was only the third instance he knew of in 17 years of labor negotiating that "management agreed to pay workers for the time they were locked out." ABT officials denied the money was any sort of lockout compensation.

The dancers also won for the first time severance pay, vacation pay and single hotel rooms while on tour -- some of these benefits to begin in the final year of the contract.

The dancers have been guaranteed 40 weeks of work during the next 12 months--an effective loss of only five weeks of work from the 45 that were scheduled in the 12-month period starting Sept. 1.

Industry observers in New York interpreted the settlement as the single greatest labor victory for ballet dancers in memory. One ABT official, who asked not to be named, said that the settlement was "enormous" in what it gave to the dancers. He said that ABT had concluded that "peace has its price" and, in this instance, that the price had to be paid.

The sources said pressure on the company had forced the settlement this week. The source of the pressure, they said, was the threatened permanent loss of some of ABT's prime engagements to the rival Joffrey Ballet. Among the threatened losses to the Joffrey were Miami Beach, Los Angeles and New York Metropolitan Opera engagements in 1983.

ABT artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov said today there would be many "scars" as a result of the bitter dispute, but that he hoped they would heal soon.

Despite the huge settlement, many dancers expressed dismay today at the instability of their lives--a dismay brought about by the 10-week lockout. Some said they would soon abandon their ballet careers. Others expressed anger toward ABT's management.

Several ABT officials said the settlement was very welcome and expressed a hope that any lingering bitterness would soon be forgotten. Said ABT's Krawitz: "I can't make up for 40 years of exploitation in one labor contract."